Ekphrasis: Scottius Polke

I like creating one impression upon contact – you see this very colourful world, very fantastic – but as you look deeper, you see that things aren’t quite as they seem. – Scottius Polke

Scottius Polke, best in wings. Photo by PJ Trenton

Few artists have merged the RL/SL boundaries as well as Scottius Polke.  While his SL work is based on his RL art objects and illustrations, rather than simply rezzing them, he transforms them into things which can only exist in a virtual medium. This includes his own identity, for Scottius Polke is an otter.

Like Glyph Graves‘ incredible anatomical avatar, Scottius’ otterhood is a whimsical presentation of his artistic nature, and one which I have seen result in endless puns and playful banter at social gatherings (otterly wonderful, etc.).  The only time I have seen him as anything other than an otter, he arrived as a book, pages flapping about as he hit the dance floor… and oh the hilarity that ensued (‘the otter is turning over a new leaf’, ‘well, it was overdue’, etc.).  His joyful presence extends to the objects – toys really – he creates and gives away to friends and patrons: decorative mold, bubble pipes, etc.

Scottius took me on a grand tour of his work – a massive undertaking considering that he exhibits all over the grid.  Now, I’m a big believer in the old adage ‘When in Rome…’.  I like to get to know other cultures from the inside, if I can.  So what to do when I had the wonderful opportunity to interview this incredibly artistic, if tiny, otter?  When in Rome…

Self-portrait as a ferret.

“You gone tiny!” exclaimed the otter.

“Indeed!  And I’ve learned a ton already… when tiny, don’t try to put on human glasses, or sit on human chairs.  Scary!”

He nodded, “Oh it can be painful… poses in general… stretchy, like this…” and he took on a pose that transformed him into something horribly grotesque which doesn’t bear describing.  I shuddered and suggested we proceed with caution.

The first stop we made on the ‘Tour de Otter’ was a recent installation called ‘Street Birdies’ at the Vista Hermosa Art Center, for an exhibit titled Comic Relief. “For some reason they thought I would fit in, it baffles me why,” Scottius explained with a straight face (a difficult task for an otter).  He gestured to his piece, which looked almost like a diorama of a road, stretching into the distance, with two rather large birds (well, they looked quite large in my ferret form) hopping about. He approached somewhat cautiously, suggesting we perhaps take a ride on the bird’s backs. “As you can see, this is a very serious piece… full of pathos.”

“Definitely… grim, even. One ponders the consequences of the rash action you suggest,” I observed, nervously.

“Yes there is a rather ominous poseball there,” he pointed to the hovering orb, “and believe me it is even grimmer for tinies.”

“Ah, yes,” I nodded, thinking back to the grotesque pose he showed me earlier.

“However let us first approach the birdies,” he said softly, taking mincing steps forward.

As I approached the birds they began hopping rather manically, and what might have been cute from a human vantage, suddenly becomes very threatening indeed. “Whoa!  Um, from this view, they are kind of scary.”

“They get a bit agitated,” he smiled, getting closer.

“I see it now, this is about you facing your own mortality,” I observed somewhat wryly.

“Yes that’s it,” he grinned.

“And the possibility of being roadkill,” I smirked. In fact this is prophetic, as when one decides to try to ‘play in the street’ (the instructions on the pose ball), one suddenly finds themselves to be roadkill, and pecked at by the (manic) birds, who seem pleased: “Mmmmmmmm Roadkill!”

“Try riding one,” dared Scottius, “gets them a bit miffed but even more fun.”  Indeed they did start hopping around even more furiously… and yes, it was quite fun!

Tinies hitch a dangerous ride.

After the near-death experience of riding the birds, I was feeling more philosophical, and began my interview in earnest.

RD: I’ve noticed that, in addition to the amazing whimsical quality of your work, it also deals with space, and size… perception… in a brilliant way. When you stand on the threshold of mushROOM, it looks normal, then you walk in and realise the scale. Is there some kind of social message in there?  About wanting people to experience the world from your vantage?
Scottius Polke: I think it has more to do with play than a message…playing with scale, playing with perspective, letting people see things in a different light. In some ways that what art is in general, taking bits and pieces of the common world, and rearranging them in a way that gives them new meaning.
RD: Tell me a little about your RL work, and it’s connection with this work, if you may?
Scottius Polke: Well I have two main areas of rl work: one is illustrative such as this, and the other is collage/assemblage.
RD: Are these textures hand-drawn?
Scottius Polke: Yes
Rowan Derryth: They are fab.
Scottius Polke: Thanks!  This came from my idle sketches, drawings I would do at the end of an evening, not thinking of anything in particular. I had wondered what it would be like to take that world of doodles and move it into this realm, but somehow still preserve the feeling.
RD: Did you come to SL to do that, or did it happen after you were here?
Scottius Polke: It happened after I was here. I had no idea what this place could offer. I started by scanning photos of some of my collages… maybe we can head to my gallery now?  That will give some perspective regarding how I got started here.

A rezzed version of the RL 'Midnight Mechanism' (left), and the SL version (right) with movable parts.

Scottius Polke: This is the first piece I translated into sl format, or taking advantage of sl’s 3d and scripting abilities.
RD: Did you know anything about scripting before you came here?
Scottius Polke: Not really. I know a little html and css, but barely.  And I also have help with some of the more complex scripts. The rotation script here is a very easy and accessible script to find.
RD: So the RL piece is assemblage?
Scottius Polke: Yes all made of pieces of junk that I collected, as well as one of those evening doodles (smiles). The middle glass piece is an ashtray, and some of the boxes are venetian blind holders. I first translated about 8 of my rl pieces in this manner and showed them at Zachh Cale’s project Z gallery which was at the old Cetus District.
RD: Then… ?
Scottius Polke: I started assembling things in RL with SL in mind, and moved more to using the pieces, scanning or shooting them and putting them together on photoshop and in here.  This piece is a good example.
RD: Ah, which brings me to my question I ask everyone: how did SL change your RL work?
Scottius Polke: Well the obvious is that I could play with more visual and animation effects, as well as repetition.
Rowan Derryth: Do you find, I wonder, that you are better able to manifest what you imagine here?
Scottius Polke: Well I believe so…I dont think I can ever match the textures that can be had in the RL.  But I can easily execute things here that would be extraordinarily difficult to out there. Can play with scale on a massive level – like our friend mushROOM (smiles).  mushROOM wouldnt be possible without thousands of dollars and a team of artists.  Shall we go over there now?

We teleported over to mushROOM so I could chat with him a little more while flinging each other about on crumpled balls of paper.

Having a (paper) ball at mushROOM.

RD: What is your favourite thing in this room?
Scottius Polke: (grins) Well… come this way. I have a certain affection for the mushroom itself,  but I notice when I come here the thing I do most is play with the paper.
RD: OK!!  Something new! I’ve been here so many times and never caught that one!
Scottius Polke: I love the crinkle sound, so very satisfying. You can also pick them up and chuck them, and then sit on them.
RD: Oh, fun! (we both take a seat and start tossing each other around)
Scottius Polke: Demolition paper!
RD: (laughing) Amazing!  (flinging Scottius across the room) This is SO FUN. I thought bouncing on the bed was my favourite thing, but now I’m torn.
Scottius Polke: No pun intended eh?
RD: No, actually. I’m not that clever. (laughs) How did mushROOM come about?
Scottius Polke: Well the seed was planted during a conversation with Zachh Cale. He was fascinated by the drawing in that first piece of mine and was wondering if I might do anything more along those lines.  I got to thinking about my sketchbooks, looking at the drawings, seeing how they would fit in this world. That rotating octopus above us was really my first attempt.  As far as the setting… as I usually draw in my bedroom, it was the most obvious choice for me, a place that seems to pop up in my drawings.  It’s the place where all the critters pop up, in a way.
RD: (smiles) Your world must be a fascinating place. Trying to imagine your house.
Scottius Polke: Oh it is far less interesting a place as this, rather ordinary really.
RD: So now the other question I like to ask – your influences?
Scottius Polke: Well I could get into Cornell and Rauschenberg! I threw them into my bio as influences, for good measure.
RD: GOOD! Because I was TOTALLY thinking of Joseph Cornell (smiles).

Joseph Cornell (American, 1903-1972) 'Taglioni's Jewel Casket' 1940. Wood box covered with velvet containing three rows of four glass cubes resting in slots on blue glass, glass necklace, jewelry fragments, and red, blue, and clear glass chips, 4 3/4 x 11 7/8 x 8 1/4" (12 x 30.2 x 21 cm). Collection: MoMA, New York, Gift of James Thrall Soby 474.1953

Scottius Polke: I was influenced by Cornell via a wonderful teacher. She taught a collage and mixed media class.  I also had the pleasure of seeing a Cornell/Duchamp exhibit in Houston years back.
RD: That must have been an amazing show.
Scottius Polke: Yes indeed, two very different men. Cornell never fit tidily into any one movement.

The same could easily be said about Scottius. His work might be called installation or illustration, real or virtual, playful or grotesque. While much of the work he is best known for are large scale installations, it must be said at the outset that Scottius has created some rather wonderful – and easily collectible – sculptural assemblages, which are available at his gallery.

'Luz Terrenial', 2009, prim assemblage

His immersive landscapes are certainly about fun.  In fact, Scottius’ work is often described in terms that evoke childhood play: Dr Seuss, cartoons, playdough.  In my early days I frequented mushROOM, and took everyone I met there to jump on the bed and fly through the air with ameobas. Scottius shows us humans his scientifically weird world from a tiny’s view, literally, and the desk and bookshelf there is one of my favourite places for a nice long chat (sitting next to books with titles like ‘A Mushroom with a View’ and ‘Breaking the Mold’).

Self-portrait of the author at mushROOM, on the shelf (again).

More recently, when a few of us went to preview his latest installation, Lunamaruna, we found ourselves enchanted not by another room, but an entire village capped by a fuchia sky. My fellow arts blogger, (the hysterical) Thirza Ember was amongst the rabble-rousers, and in her review she explained this surreal setting wonderfully, so I’m going to steal from her with her permission: “If you put Lost, Portmerion, and Play-Doh in a blender, turned it on for about an hour, then threw it away and called in Scottius Polke to make something fun, fresh, and interesting, you’d have Lunamaruna.”


However, this statement, from Scottius’ artist biography, makes clear the extremely thoughtful and rather intellectual ideaologies which underpin his work:

Relationships between disparate ideas such as order vs. anarchy, innocence vs. corruption, nature vs. the machine are often found in these pieces.  However, he places little moral judgment upon either side of these opposing forces in the work.  Rather, the art explores the dynamic that arises when these unlike forces are combined.

Indeed the most fascinating aspects of Scottius’ work are its dichotomies. For example, although his work is most certainly about play, I think there is also something much deeper, and sometimes slightly darker, going on. As I said, they are trips down the rabbit hole, in the same manner that Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland is full of both fantastical and grotesque encounters. For me, and perhaps this might be a bit too revealing, one word comes to mind when walking into one of Scottius’ vivid landscapes: trippy. At mushROOM, I not only bounced and flew, but I also sat and had many a philosophical chat on the desk, taking me back to late night post-rave discussions of my misspent youth, often had in the glow of blacklights and lava lamps.

As if to reinforce this point, Scottius tells me, “Basically almost all these are the products of me drawing and turning off my conscious mind.”

“Maybe you should have been a white rabbit?” I query only half-joking.

Scottius laughs, and dons his Cutea Benelli original: “Or the Mad Otter?”

Scottius Polke at mushROOM, by Rowan Derryth. 'Mad Otter' outfit by Cutea Benelli.

Psychedelic references aside, a visit to one of these installations is truly a liminal journey, taking the viewer betwixt worlds, to places that are neither here nor there. Scottius presses this liminality further at Lunamaruna via transport in a rather bumpy shuttlepod, which just barely lands at the top of a long path leading down into the village.  The ultra-chromatic landscape is full of things to explore and discover: trees to sit under and cuddle with a friend, a relaxing fountain on which to nap, and, quite beautifully, three fuschia ‘mantra’rays flying through the sky, on whom one can not just ride, but meditate.  However, as one explores, the sense that something has gone horribly awry in this seemingly bright and peaceful village begins to pervade. Rooms have been ransacked, and there are even some very suspect bones – I think human – found in various places.

'Mantarays are for meditative purposes only'

For example, when I jumped off the back of the flying ‘mantra’ray I was meditating on, I landed in a pond with an extremely sinister fish, which in my trepidation I had to query Scottius about.

“Yeah it’s Max… kind of an angler hybrid, one of the first things I made for the build.”

“He’s sinister,” I observe calmly, watching him swim slowly about.

“Well maybe not sinister, just a bit creepy,” he said, defending his creation.  And then we both looked at the crashed shuttlepod on the banks, which clearly overshot the entrance landing, and the pile of bones at the bottom of the pond. “Though he may have eaten one of the ex-inhabitants.”

“Um, with the bones and crashed pod?  Sinister.”

Scottius laughed, “He was just hungry… and opportunity fell in his lap.”

Max, with something (or someone) still stuck in his teeth.

I looked at him an observed “Glyph Graves has these floating heads that get right up in your face and are quite disturbing.  He thinks they are cute.  Sometimes you guys love your whacked creations too much.”

Scottius gave me a toothy grin, “We are a bit warped.”

If you enjoy Scottius Polke’s warped creations as much as I do, make sure to join his group, where he’ll keep you posted on his prolific activities… and also make sure to check out his newest creations: wandering crocodiles (*shudder*) which are available for purchase at Lunamaruna.  Also visit his Cafe Press store, where you too can have an Amoeba Wall Clock to ensure that, unlike the White Rabbit, you aren’t late for your next important date.

New to Ekphrasis?  Catch up on the previous posts here:


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